UTC men's basketball thrived in 2015

UTC men's basketball thrived in 2015

January 1st, 2016 by Gene Henley in Sports - College

New UTC men's basketball coach Matt McCall has kept the Mocs playing well in the first half of the 2015-16 season after a strong showing in the second half of last season. They're 11-2 entering Saturday's Southern Conference opener against The Citadel.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

Will Wade started it. New coach Matt McCall has not only continued his predecessor's success, he has built on it.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team enjoyed one of the best calendar years in the history of the program in 2015. The Mocs were 25-6 during the past 12 months — 14-4 during the second half of the 2014-15 season and 11-2 so far this season.

It's the fifth time the program has won 25 games in a calendar year, although the first time since 1993. Only the 1983 (29-3), 1982 (26-4), 1993 (25-5) and 1977 (26-6) teams had better records, and those seasons ended in either the NCAA or NIT tournaments — or in the case of the 1977 team, the NCAA Division II championship.

With the exception of guards Johnathan Burroughs-Cook and Dee Oldham, all of the main contributors this season have been the same as in 2014-15, even though the only members of the staff still intact after Wade's departure for Virginia Commonwealth University are graduate assistant Jordan Clark and assistant athletic trainer Kyle Creasy.

The second half of the 2014-15 season included a second-place finish in the Southern Conference, with a road win over eventual conference champion Wofford, a regular-season sweep of tournament runner-up Furman and at least one win over every team in the SoCon.

Last season ended with a two-point loss in the conference quarterfinals to those same Paladins. Wade then left for VCU, eventually taking his entire staff with him and paving the way for McCall, the former Florida assistant who worked under Billy Donovan, to take over.

In his first season as a head coach, McCall has infused a certain level of confidence in those same players, with some taking meteoric rises in their contributions from last season to this one. There aren't many skills he has added to the players' individual abilities — he's just given them the knowledge that they can do the things they always felt they could do but hadn't been able to in college.

The team has dealt with the loss of senior preseason SoCon player of the year Casey Jones, who has missed the past five games with an ankle injury, as well as junior center Justin Tuoyo, who missed two games with a concussion. UTC still has claimed road wins over top-40 RPI opponents Dayton (No. 10) and Georgia (No. 39).

The Mocs are 11-2 entering Saturday's SoCon opener against The Citadel.

"It's been a blessing," junior Tre' McLean said after Tuesday's road win over Lipscomb. "I really feel blessed to be a part of this group. They're a great group of guys to play with, and this is the most fun I've had playing with a group of guys. I really enjoy basketball, we're winning and nobody is selfish.

"Everybody is so focused. I love being a part of a group of guys like this."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.